No Comment — July 4, 2008, 7:17 am

Mr. Twain Offers a Lesson on Patriotism

It was March 16, 1901. A lanky man with elegant and flowing white hair and a prominent moustache strode to the podium. He hardly needed an introduction: the audience would immediately have recognized what was arguably the best-known face in America. The event was a meeting of the Male Teachers Association of the City of New York. It was a convivial gathering for dinner at the Albert Hotel in Greenwich Village, at the corner of University Place and Eleventh Street.

The first speaker, Charles H. Skinner, the New York Superintendent of Education, had offered up some words on “Patriotism for the Young,” the need for a better civics curriculum. The need was for children “who are citizens.” “We do not care to own Cuba, Porto-Rico or the Philippines, but we do want to keep them from the dark rule of a barbarian people,” Mr. Skinner offered, reflecting the views so closely associated with President William McKinley. The “barbarian people” were, of course, the Filipinos themselves. Only a few weeks earlier, McKinley had said, of the Philippines: “There was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them.” In fact, Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “The White Man’s Burden,” published in McClure’s little more than a year earlier, bore the subtitle: “The United States and the Philippines.” America had assumed a new mission, as a policeman to the whole world, but as a missionary for Christianity and democracy in its own special corner. The notion of Manifest Destiny stretched at last beyond the Americas, into the lands over which the European powers had contended for the last century or so.

The talk of the day focused on a part of the Philippines where Christianity had not taken root. It was of the Moro insurgency in the southern stretch of the archipelago. The insurrection was dragging on longer than America’s military leaders had envisioned. And the first reports had reached America of the use of highly coercive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, by American officers. Unlike the situation that the country would face a century later, however, America’s leaders—prominently including Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, who would assume the presidency in only a few months–condemned these practices and insisted on sharp punishment for those involved. Several officers found themselves facing a court-martial in proceedings which would clearly establish waterboarding as a serious crime.

Perhaps when he took the podium Mark Twain had these stories in mind. He put down his cigar.

marktwain2

Yes, patriotism. We cannot all agree. That is most fortunate. If we could all agree life would be too dull. I believe if we did all agree, I would take my departure before my appointed time, that is if I had the courage to do so. I do agree in fact with what Mr. Skinner has said. In fact, more than I usually agree with other people. I believe that there are no private citizens in a republic. Every man is an official. Above all, he is a policeman. He does not need to wear a helmet and brass buttons, but his duty is to look after the enforcement of the laws.

If patriotism had been taught in the schools years ago, the country would not be in the position it is in to-day. Mr. Skinner is better satisfied with the present conditions than I am. I would teach patriotism in the schools, and teach it this way: I would throw out the old maxim, ‘My country, right or wrong,’ etc., and instead I would say, ‘My country when she is right.’ Because patriotism is supporting your country all the time, but your government only when it deserves it.

So I would not take my patriotism from my neighbor or from Congress. I should teach the children in the schools that there are certain ideals, and one of them is that all men are created free and equal. Another that the proper government is that which exists by the consent of the governed. If Mr. Skinner and I had to take care of the public schools, I would raise up a lot of patriots who would get into trouble with his.

I should also teach the rising patriot that if he ever became the Government of the United States and made a promise that he should keep it. I will not go any further into politics as I would get excited, and I don’t like to get excited. I prefer to remain calm. I have been a teacher all my life, and never got a cent for teaching.

Reconstructed from New York City newspaper accounts.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2017

Document of Barbarism

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Destroyer of Worlds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Crossing Guards

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I am Here Only for Working”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dear Rose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Year of The Frog

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Destroyer of Worlds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In February 1947, Harper’s Magazine published Henry L. Stimson’s “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.” As secretary of war, Stimson had served as the chief military adviser to President Truman, and recommended the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The terms of his unrepentant apologia, an excerpt of which appears on page 35, are now familiar to us: the risk of a dud made a demonstration too risky; the human cost of a land invasion would be too high; nothing short of the bomb’s awesome lethality would compel Japan to surrender. The bomb was the only option. Seventy years later, we find his reasoning unconvincing. Entirely aside from the destruction of the blasts themselves, the decision thrust the world irrevocably into a high-stakes arms race — in which, as Stimson took care to warn, the technology would proliferate, evolve, and quite possibly lead to the end of modern civilization. The first half of that forecast has long since come to pass, and the second feels as plausible as ever. Increasingly, the atmosphere seems to reflect the anxious days of the Cold War, albeit with more juvenile insults and more colorful threats. Terms once consigned to the history books — “madman theory,” “brinkmanship” — have returned to the news cycle with frightening regularity. In the pages that follow, seven writers and experts survey the current nuclear landscape. Our hope is to call attention to the bomb’s ever-present menace and point our way toward a world in which it finally ceases to exist.

Illustration by Darrel Rees. Source photographs: Kim Jong-un © ITAR-TASS Photo Agency/Alamy Stock Photo; Donald Trump © Yuri Gripas/Reuters/Newscom
Article
Crossing Guards·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ambassador Bridge arcs over the Detroit River, connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, the southernmost city in Canada. Driving in from the Canadian side, where I grew up, is like viewing a panorama of the Motor City’s rise and fall, visible on either side of the bridge’s turquoise steel stanchions. On the right are the tubular glass towers of the Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors, and Michigan Central Station, the rail terminal that closed in 1988. On the left is a rusted industrial corridor — fuel tanks, docks, abandoned warehouses. I have taken this route all my life, but one morning this spring, I crossed for the first time in a truck.

Illustration by Richard Mia
Article
“I am Here Only for Working”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

But the exercise of labor is the worker’s own life-activity, the manifestation of his own life. . . . He works in order to live. He does not even reckon labor as part of his life, it is rather a sacrifice of his life.

— Karl Marx

Photograph from the United Arab Emirates by the author. This page: Ruwais Mall
Article
The Year of The Frog·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

To look at him, Sweet Macho was a beautiful horse, lean and strong with muscles that twitched beneath his shining black coat. A former racehorse, he carried himself with ceremony, prancing the field behind our house as though it were the winner’s circle. When he approached us that day at the edge of the yard, his eyes shone with what might’ve looked like intelligence but was actually a form of insanity. Not that there was any telling our mother’s boyfriend this — he fancied himself a cowboy.

“Horse 1,” by Nine Francois. Courtesy the artist and AgavePrint, Austin, Texas
Article
Dead Ball Situation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

What We Think About When We Think About Soccer, by Simon Critchley. Penguin Books. 224 pages. $20.

Begin, as Wallace Stevens didn’t quite say, with the idea of it. I so like the idea of Simon Critchley, whose books offer philosophical takes on a variety of subjects: Stevens, David Bowie, suicide, humor, and now football — or soccer, as the US edition has it. (As a matter of principle I shall refer to this sport throughout as football.) “All of us are mysteriously affected by our names,” decides one of Milan Kundera’s characters in Immortality, and I like Critchley because his name would seem to have put him at a vocational disadvantage compared with Martin Heidegger, Søren Kierkegaard, or even, in the Anglophone world, A. J. Ayer or Richard Rorty. (How different philosophy might look today if someone called Nobby Stiles had been appointed as the Wykeham Professor of Logic.)

Tostão, No. 9, and Pelé, No. 10, celebrate Carlos Alberto’s final goal for Brazil in the World Cup final against Italy on June 21, 1970, Mexico City © Heidtmann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Minimum square footage of San Francisco apartments allowed under new regulations:

220

A Disney behavioral ecologist announced that elephants’ long-range low-frequency vocal rumblings draw elephant friends together and drive elephant enemies apart.

The judge continued to disallow the public release of Brailsford’s body-cam footage, and the jury spent less than six hours in deliberation before returning a verdict of not guilty. The police then released the video, showing Brailsford pointing his AR-15 assault rifle at Shaver while a sergeant asked him if he understood that there was “a very severe possibility” he would “get shot.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today